People packed the Senate Education Committee meeting Wednesday to discuss House Bill 236 that will attempt to address the state’s education funding shortfall. The bill differs from the Senate approach to the problem in that it proposes some funding reductions, but holds off deep and immediate cuts to education by using legislative savings.
Should those savings dip to $500 million, a half percent sales and use tax would go into affect to generate more revenue. Representatives of the energy industry say that tax would hurt their industries.
Speaker of the House Steve Harshman, who spoke on behalf of the bill, said no one likes the idea of taxes, but deep budget cuts would lay off over a thousand teachers and close over a hundred schools.
“We could do all that. But I don’t think anyone in this room wants to shut down small town Wyoming. Just name your county and we could shut them down and save tens of hundreds of millions.”
But he went onto explain it’s just not that simple.
“We hear all this analogy of the private sector. When revenues are down, we have to cut, cut, cut. And when I ask why revenues are down. They say, well we don’t have as many customers,” he said. “Well guess what? We still have customers. We still have third graders in the state.”
Education Committee Chair Hank Coe, said he wants to combine the Senate Bill and House bill into one piece of legislation. But Coe acknowledged the tax measure would be a tough sell in the Senate. The committee will continue working on the bill next week.